THIRTEEN TURNS OF THE CLOCK
The clock was striking 6:00. It took a moment for him to realize what the noise was, the sounds of the heavy chimes vibrating in his head. The sky around him seemed hazy and he looked in the direction where the sea should be, but only saw buildings, tall buildings against a cold, gray sky. A pigeon swooped down from an overhanging eave, landing at his feet and he stared at it stupidly. A pigeon? The sounds of the city began to crowd in around him--the rumble of a milk cart, the neigh of a horse, a paper boy hollering the headlines over the din. Where was he? What was going on?
A window up above him opened, a pretty girl with a dark tangle of curls stuck her head out, smiling down at him. 'What are you standing in the middle of the street for, mister?" she yelled at him with great affection. "I'll be here when you get back!"
"Natalie?" he said her name. How could it be? That was impossible.
"Forgot my name already, I see," she giggled as she closed the window. He looked up in the direction of where she had been, taking a double look at the sign that swung from the overhang -- The Purple Petal. What was going on here?
"There you are, mate!" he heard the voice of his second-in-command. But that wasn't possible. "You know if we don't get to breakfast before all of the newsboys and flower girls, all the best food will be gone. And I, for one, don't intend to go without the hotcakes again."
"Brendan?" it just couldn't be. He hadn't seen Brendan since he had made Captain of his own ship and their lives had taken different routes.
"Need to have your eyes checked?" the seaman teased him. "Yes, it is I. The same old Brendan that left you last night. What did Natalie do to you last night? Now, come on, I'm hungry."
They started walking in the direction of their favorite tavern when they were in London -- London? Yes, it was London, but how? "Nick and Clive are already there waiting for us." Brendan told him, "and then we need to really live it up on our last day here -- make up for those months at sea with only each other to look at."
"Nick and Clive?" he couldn't help but say the names. Nick had been lost in a storm off of South America the year before he, Daniel, had retired and Clive had married an Irish lass and had become a farmer. But they were here?
Finding that he was hungry (he was hungry?), he followed his friend down the street, pulling him back from almost getting trampled by a passing cab. "Watch it there, mate," he teased Brendan. It was good to be with him again, even if it was a dream. (could he dream?) They had started over once more when a small boy ducked behind Daniel, crouching in fear, his breathing heavy as he tried not to cry. "What the ...?" Brendan began, but then they saw two much larger boys come running towards them.
"Did you see a rat kid come by here?" one asked in a Cockney accent. "What way did he go?"
"He stole our breakfast," the other one said.
"No, we haven't seen anyone." Daniel called out, even as the lad was shivering against his leg.
"Are you certain?" the taller one challenged.
"Are you questioning us?" Brendan stepped forward, casually hitting his fist into his other hand.
"No, sir," the Cockney said.
After he was sure that the two were gone, Daniel reached around and pulled the boy up by his coat collar. "What's the story here, boy?"
"I was hungry," his small voice was plaintive. "I know I shouldn't but it was just sitting there."
"Jonathan?" Daniel felt like all the wind had been knocked out of him. Now this was not possible, but the lad looked and sounded like Jonathan Muir -- except this child was so much thinner, his face pinched from hunger.
"Yes, sir," his freckled face looked frightened. 'I'm sorry, but I didn't want them to catch me."
"You are Jonathan?" Daniel was even more confused.
"Yes, sir, I am Jonathan. Can I do anything for you?" he wanted to please.
"But I don't understand," the captain tugged on his ear, looking the boy over. He was dressed in old but neatly mended clothes, his hands still clutching his booty, his blue eyes full of fear and wonder.
"Are you all right?" Brendan asked his friend. "You look pale, Danny. Come on let's go, get you something to drink."
"I'm coming," he shook off Brendan's hand. "Here, lad," and he handed the boy a coin, "Be more careful."
'Yes, sir," the child beamed, hugging the coin close to his chest. Daniel saw him waving to them for several steps until they turned the corner.
By the time they reached The Cat and Mouse Tavern, Daniel's head was awhirl with what had happened so far. None of this could be happening, but it was. He was in London, he was with Brendan and he seemed to be very much alive. His head was hurting and at the first smell of food, his stomach had begin to growl. All sure signs he was indeed among the living.
Two men at a back table hailed him and he found his confusion grow further. It WAS Nick and Clive, but how could it be? And over in the corner talking to a busty barmaid was Miguel -- the Spanish sailor they had rescued from pirates off the coast of Barbados.
"Captain Gregg." Clive jumped up, coming over to lead him to their table. "We were wondering if maybe you had decided to stay with the fair Natalie and let us rot on our own."
"I would never do that,' he found himself saying, drawn in by the smell of fried potatoes and sausages. Sitting at the table with his primary crew around him, he soon felt that even if it was a dream, he should at least enjoy it.
There was a lot of talk about what each had done the night before and all of the plans yet to be done before their departure on the morrow. "But we know, don't get too pissed," Miguel said with affection. "We need a clear head for the water."
Daniel nodded, thinking he had never told his men how to behave as long as they were in port but he would hang a man from the yardarm if he showed up drunk. It was impossible to run an efficient ship without clear heads. "So tell me, lads," he finally said, after he couldn't eat another bite. "What's on for our voyage tomorrow?"
"What's on for the voyage?" they all laughed. "Don't tell us you've forgotten about this voyage! You've spent the last six weeks trying to think of a way not to have to take the Queen."
"The Queen?" What were they talking about?
"Mr. Grant's widow? You know Mr. Grant, the man who was the head of our shipping line? And his wife now owns it. And she informed you that you would be responsible for taking her back to Philadelphia."
"But we don't take passengers." Daniel shook his head. "I've always made it my practice never to take passengers and especially women."
"So you've gotten rid of her then?" Nick looked hopeful.
"He most certainly has not!" a woman's low voice broke into their conversation. "I told you before, Daniel Gregg, and I will remind you again, that if you do not take me and my companion to Philadelphia, I will take your ship and sell it to the highest bidder."
"Informality does not suit you, Captain Gregg," the buxom woman sat down among his men. "But that doesn't mean that I will let you out of our contract," and she gave him a fleeting smile.
His head was really hurting now. This was Martha! His Martha, their Martha. But looking at the woman seated next to him, dressed in black and dripping with jewels, he wasn't sure what to think. There was something very wrong. First Jonathan, now Martha, or was it?
"Madam, your parasol," a girl walked up to the table of seamen looking very much out of place in the smoky room. She was a delicate-looking thing, her blond curls tied with a ribbon, and she looked like a doll in a blue dress that matched her eyes.
"Thank you." Mrs. Grant smiled at her. "Captain Gregg, I would like you to meet my companion -- Candace Muir."
"Miss Muir," he heard the words come out his mouth but he could barely breathe ( he could breathe!) "I didn't realize we would have the pleasure of being in the presence of such a beautiful lady." and he kissed the little girl's hand, making her giggle. "May I present you with a token of my esteem?" and he handed her a chain with a scrimshaw pendant in the shape of a star. He had picked it up somewhere, probably for Natalie but when he found it in his pocket, he felt compelled to give it to Candy. Candy?
He felt like he was going around in circles, like Candy's 45's. This was not making sense and he was a man who valued order and sense. He could not be here with people he knew had been gone for over a hundred years -- he had been gone for over a hundred years -- and with people who weren't even born yet. But everyone kept using the words, yesterday, tomorrow as though they were all real.
"If you will excuse me, Madam.' he rose up from his seat."I need to check on the details for departure. I will be happy to escort you and your companion to the ship in the morning."
"We will be waiting at the dock as pre-arranged." Martha informed him.
He nodded, heading for the front door, not answering his men's calls of where he would be for the rest of the day. He didn't know, but he knew he needed some time alone. The air felt good on his face as he walked outdoors and he took a minute to try to decide what to do.
He was hallucinating. Yes, that was it. Perhaps he had gotten hold of some bad Madeira last night, or had eaten some spoiled sea food. There had to be an explanation. But the truth was, he had seen Jonathan and Martha and Candy and if they were really here, then -- and suddenly he felt cold all over — where was Carolyn?
He hailed a cab, giving the driver the address of the Purple Petal. He needed to find the boy again -- Jonathan. He needed to find him and ask about Candy. It was the only thing that made sense at this point and hopefully it would lead to Carolyn.
He found the boy where they had left him, sitting on a blanket, his face looking imploringly out at the world. He had a cup in front of him and small white dog curled up at his side. The boy was asking passersby if they would like their shoes shined or their packages carried, but he might as well have been invisible. "Lad," Daniel called out to him."How much for a shine?"
"A shine?" His smile was so big, Daniel was sure it would break his face.
'Whatever you feel it's worth," the boy said, reaching for his work palette. They walked to a nearby bench, the little dog following. The seaman watched Jonathan as he worked, not wanting to frighten him although he was burning with questions.
"How old are you, lad?"
"Ten." he answered. "But I'm strong."
'I have no doubts but that you are. Have you ever thought of becoming a cabin boy?"
The boy's eyes lit up and he looked very much like Jonathan. "On your ship?" he asked hopefully.
"Yes, on my ship. I need a good steady lad to assist me."
'I would love too," and then his smile deflated. "But I couldn't leave my mother. Especially with Candy going away."
"Is Candy your sister?"
Yes," he nodded. solemnly. "Mrs. Grant took her in after Papa died and Mama was grateful but now Mrs. Grant is returning to America and says Candy must come with her."
"And where is your mother?" Daniel felt like his heart might fall out.
"She works for Uncle Claymore," child indicated across the street.
The only building in Daniel's line of vision was one that made him feel like crying. Surely she wasn't there -- not at the Purple Petal!
Jonathan finished his boots and the seaman gave him two coins that made the boy's eyes light up like a Christmas tree. "Is your Mama over there now?" Daniel asked. "I would very much like to talk to her."
"She should be." Jonathan nodded. "You can usually find her in the back washing or ironing. Uncle Claymore has Mama run errands and do his books and help take care of the girls," the boy said wisely. "And lets her sleep in a back room off the kitchen. Sometimes she sneaks me in and lets me sleep with her, but Claymore doesn't like me to be over there. He says I'm bad for business."
Daniel had known Claymore, the proprietor of the Purple Petal from the six years he had frequented the brothel. He treated his girls well and they adored him but he was also known throughout the city for being greedy and selfish and not the kindest of men. He had always bothered Daniel -- but Claymore? The sniveling excuse for a man who claimed to be a Gregg? He couldn't be the same one. Hadn't Jonathan called him uncle?
"If you will excuse me, lad, I'm going to talk to your mother."
"Yes, indeed, about you," and Daniel gave the boy's head an affectionate tousle.
Making a quick dash across the street, almost having an accident with a pushcart, he ran for the back of the building. If Carolyn had been there, why hadn't he seen her? Opening the side door, he carefully made his way down the hall. He kept walking until the sound of someone crying caught his attention and he gravitated towards it.
"You will do it,' he heard the unmistakable whine of Claymore's voice. "Blair Thompson offered me $500 for a night of your company and you will do it or you and the boy will be out on the street And don't think I won't."
"But you promised Robert!"
Daniel's very being felt like it would explode -- Carolyn!
"I told Robert I would care for you and the child as I saw fit and believe me, missie, for $500 I see fit. And he's not the first man who's inquired after you. You are a beauty and should be earning your keep. Then perhaps we could bring in more men like Daniel Gregg, men who pay in advance for the woman he chooses."
"I would rather die than let you sell me to Blair Thompson or any other man." she was defiant.
"I wouldn't be so quick to say such things." Claymore growled. "I am, after all, your son's official guardian."
Daniel heard the unmistakable sound of a slap and then the silence that usually followed such an action. "I don't know what Robert ever saw in you," he heard Claymore say. "Leave my sight, but you will be with Thompson tonight or mark my words, I will follow through."
Daniel stood back against the wall as the door flung open, Claymore stomping out into the hallway and up the stairs, a crying Carolyn soon following. She looked hot and tired and her hair hung limply around her face. But it was Carolyn -- Carolyn!
She paused against the wall, pushing back a stand of hair, trying to stop her tears. He knew he shouldn't but he couldn't seem to stop himself. "Carolyn."
She looked at him, her eyes wide. "I'm sorry, sir, but customers aren't allowed down here. Is there something I can do for you?"
"You don't know who I am?" Oh, how he had hoped she would. But no one else had, why would she?
"I don't know who you are," she looked at him like he was crazy. "And if I can't help you then you will have to leave."
"I can take you away from here. You and Jonathan. You won't ever have to see this place or Claymore again."
"Go away with you?" she was almost laughing. "I really do insist that you leave now."
"Carolyn," he said her name so gently she couldn't help but listen. "It's me, Daniel. Don't you remember me?"
'No." she shook her head. "I don't. Now, if you will excuse me." and she ran up the steps. This was not going well. He backed up against the side of the building trying to get his wits about him. Spying Jonathan come across the street, he watched the lad as he made his way to the back door, opened it and called out softly "Mama?"
After the child had called twice, he saw Carolyn come to the door, taking her boy in her arms and holding him close. "Mama, look what I have!" and he held up the coins for her to see. "Here you take these two, you need them worse then I do."
"Oh Jonathan," she sighed, nearly breaking Daniel's heart. "I don't want to take your money."
"I want you to have it," the boy pleaded. "I am the man you need to take care of you."
She took the two coins and put them in her apron pocket, giving the child a kiss. "Thank you, darling."
Clutching the coin he had left, Jonathan turned the corner where he once more ran into the Captain who gave him a smile and asked him if he would like to join him in a cup of something cold.
"Well," Jonathan glanced at his only coin, but Daniel shook his head. "My treat."
He purchased two cups of cider and they sat down under an oak tree to enjoy the frothy beverage.
"We moved here when I was a baby." Jonathan told him. "Papa went into business with Mr. Grant, the shipping magnate but Uncle Claymore borrowed some money from Papa and lost it all. Papa died soon after wards -- he was shot by a highwayman -- and we had nowhere to go. Mrs. Grant said that she would take Candy so that she wouldn't have to grow up at the Purple Petal. Mama is trying to work off Papa's debts but she says we still owe so much. I can't wait until I'm old enough to work so Mama won't have to. She hates working for Uncle Claymore, she's tired all the time and she missed Papa.""I'm sure she does." Daniel leaned against the tree. "I would like very much to help your Mama, I just don't know how."
As he sat and talked to Jonathan, part of his mind kept going over the conversation he had heard between Claymore and Carolyn. The mere thought of Blair Thompson even being in the same room with Carolyn made his blood boil, not to mention the appalling fact that Claymore would sell his brother's wife for money. And then a plan sprang to mind that made him smile. If Claymore wanted money, he would give him money and perhaps save Carolyn in the process. It was worth a try.
He offered Claymore so much money that the tightwad couldn't pass it up. 'I want Carolyn Muir and I want her for the night and I must have your word we will not be disturbed"
"For that amount of money, you can marry her." Claymore snatched up the bills.
"I may hold you to that."
After making sure that Jonathan and his dog were secured at the boarding house, he headed for the Purple Petal. He went into the main room, a place filled with comfortable couches and chairs where men could read, play cards or chess or play billiards. For a reasonable amount of money, a man could enjoy the company of other men or conduct business in relative security. Beautiful women served them drinks, helped them play cards and talked to them on various subjects. For a few dollars more, depending on your choice, you could go upstairs with one of the girls and stay as long as you had paid for. All of the girls were young and beautiful, most were intelligent and witty but all were taught how to make a man feel he had gotten his money's worth.
Daniel had already paid his money and so he made his way up the stairs, hesitating outside the room where Claymore assured him Carolyn would be waiting. He opened the door only halfway and found her sitting in a chair by the window, the late evening sun falling on her hair, giving off a luster better than gold. Her eyes were closed and her hands were clasped and a pain went through his heart. He had to get her away from here, away from Claymore and all the Blair Thompsons. Back to Gull Cottage. But first he had to make her remember that she belonged there. As he opened the door further, this time she looked up. He wasn't sure but he thought he detected the smallest amount of relief in her eyes before she stood up and started walking towards him.
'You aren't Blair Thompson."
"I most certainly am not." He didn't mean to sound harsh, it just had come out that way.
"Well, I know you must have paid a fortune to be here with me. I only hope I can make it worth your while," and she reached for the tie on her robe.
"No, no." he shook his head, grabbing her hands. 'I don't want that."
A look of fear crossed her face."What do you want then?"
"Carolyn," his voice was gentle. "Don't you remember me? Daniel Gregg, Gull Cottage, Schooner Bay? You live in a house, my house, our house, by the ocean, you are a writer." He was caressing her hands, trying to stir some recollections in her mind. "You and Candy and Jonathan. Don't you remember?"
'No." She shook her head looking at him as though he were insane. "Today was the first time I have seen my daughter in a year. She came to show me a pendant and to tell me good-bye before she leaves for America and I never see her again. My son begs in the streets."
"No." his voice firm. "Carolyn, please concentrate. Your home, my home, Gull Cottage, my ship..." he hesitated.
"With a balcony over looking the sea?"
"Yes!" he felt a surge of hope, pulling her closer to him.
"And a ship's wheel." she sounded more confident now.
"Yes!" he was so happy he could have jumped in his joy.
"The house, my house. I do remember," she nodded. "It welcomed me the first time I saw it. Gull Cottage, my home. I can see it clearly. Me and the children and Martha -- but where are you?"
"I'm here. I'm right here." he was clearly confused.
"No," she shook her head. "At Gull Cottage. I, I don't remember you there. Are you there?"
He wasn't sure how to answer, the right words not coming fast enough.
"I feel like you should be there, but that somehow you are and aren't at the same time. It's almost as if only the idea of you is there. But that's impossible. Because you are here."
"Only my spirit is at Gull Cottage. I no longer exist, unless you want me to."
"But you are here now and so am I. We are here."
"Yes, we are," his breath was warm against her face.
It was the moment they had both wished for and never thought possible. He touched her cheek with his hand before lowering his mouth to hers, a kiss building that neither wanted to end. It was the end and the beginning of all they wanted.
The heavy chime of the clock sounded in his head and he felt a heaviness around him. A wave of dizziness overtook him and when his head cleared he was sitting at his desk in the alcove, the grandfather clock ending its 6 a.m. ring. What had happened? 'Carolyn?"
Materializing into the main bedroom, he found her pushing back the covers as she placed her feet on the floor.
'Oh Daniel," her eyes full of tears.He walked over to the bed, reaching for her before he forgot he couldn't. "You're here," His voice was full of relief. "Here in Gull Cottage where you belong. Here with me."
"Of course I'm here," she shook her head. "Where else would I be?"
"It doesn't matter," he said. "As long as you and the children are here, with me."
Reaching for her bathrobe she pulled it on, her movements slow and deliberate. "It's funny you should mention about me not being here though. Because I just had the strangest dream. I was in London, Jonathan was a beggar, Candy worked for a rich woman and I was working for Claymore and he owned a......."
Just then the door opened and Jonathan came in, clutching something in his hand, a look of confusion on his face.
"What's the matter, sweetie?" Carolyn went over to him, kneeling down to his level.
"I had the strangest dream, Mom." His blue eyes were wide. "I dreamed I was a beggar in London and trying to save you from having to work for Claymore. And you were there, Captain Gregg, and you were nice to me and gave me a coin." He opened his hand showing them the small piece of metal he was holding. "And when I woke up, it was in my hand."
"Let me see that, if I may." The Captain reached for it, running his fingers over it. What did this mean?
"In my dream, he showed me the coin." Carolyn was clearly confused. "He gave me two and I told him to keep that one. But I don't understand."
Candy gave the door a small knock before coming in, going straight to her mother and throwing her arms around Carolyn. "Oh, Mommy! I had the worst dream. I dreamed that were in London and Martha was a rich woman and I worked for her and she was taking me away to Philadelphia and I was never going to see you and Jonathan again. And you were there, Captain Gregg, we were going to go on your ship and you gave me a necklace. "
It was then that Daniel spotted the star pendant dangling from a chain around the girl's neck and he pointed to it. "Like that one?"
'"Exactly like this one!" She looked as confused as Daniel felt. "But where did it come from?"
"In the dream, you told me Captain Gregg gave it to you." Carolyn touched the star as though it were a lifeline. "But..." and she looked up at the Captain who shook his head in bewilderment.
"It would have had to have been a dream." he smiled at the two children.
"But the coin." Jonathan questioned. "And Candy's necklace."
They all looked at one another, then Carolyn gave each child a hug and sent them down for their breakfast.
"So, was it a dream?" she asked him.
"I don't know," he shook his head. "I was there in London with all of you. I saw Jonathan and Candy and Martha and you. It was all so real."
"It most certainly was." Carolyn agreed, touching her fingers to her lips, that still seemed to feel his kiss. 'You came to rescue me. "
"And here you are." he smiled. "Safe and sound."
"Thanks to you."
He left her to her morning preparations and as he heard the children talking to Martha, he felt happy and content. But there was still a feeling over him he could not shake. If the coin and the necklace were still there and if Carolyn could still feel his kiss ... had it been real?
"Captain?" Carolyn opened the door and beckoned him in. "Please, take a look at the calendar "
He did as she asked and what he saw put fear into his heart. Looking up at her, he saw that she felt the same way. "Friday the 13th."
That date was purportedly the cause of many strange happenings. WAS the dream somehow real? And if so, were they still trapped in that other "dream" existence?
The clock struck once and vibrated into the morning air.